, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 216-225

Sponge-feeding fishes of the West Indies

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Abstract

In an analysis of the stomach contents of 212 species of West Indian reef and inshore fishes, sponge remains were found in 21 species. In eleven of these, sponges comprised 6% or more of the stomach contents; it is assumed that these fishes feed intentionally on sponges. Sponges comprise over 95% of the food of angelfishes of the genus Holacanthus, over 70% of the food of species of the related genus Pomacanthus, and more than 85% of the food of the filefish, Cantherhines macrocerus. Lesser quantities of sponges are ingested by the remaining fish species. Fishes that feed on sponges belong to highly specialized teleost families, suggesting that this habit has evolved in geologically late time. The small number of fish species that concentrate on sponges as food suggests that the defensive characters of sponges—mineralized sclerites, noxious chemical substances, and tough fibrous components—are highly effective in discouraging predation. The two sponges most frequently eaten by fishes have a low percentage of siliceous spicules relative to organic matter, but among the 20 next most frequently consumed species no striking correlation occurs with respect to spicule content. Color and form of the sponge show no special correlation with frequency of occurrence in fish stomachs. Three species of fishes appear to concentrate on one species of sponge, but in these cases over 60% of the food taken consists of a variety of other organisms. Those fishes, more than half of whose diet consists of sponges, tend to sample a wide variety of species. No strong evidence is provided by our data that fish predation is a significant factor in limiting sponge distribution in the West Indian region.

Communicated by G. L. Voss, Miami